Altnets lead the charge as UK fibre competition grows

Full fibre coverage is growing in the UK, with more than a fifth of premises now able to choose between two or more fibre broadband providers, in no small part thanks to the efforts of the country's alternative network operators.

Mary Lennighan

May 9, 2024

3 Min Read

In all, almost two thirds of UK premises had access to fibre broadband, or 64.7%, to be more specific, as of the end of March, according to new data from Point Topic. That figure equates to 20.4 million premises.

That's a pretty big increase. Six months earlier fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) coverage was at 17.4 million premises, or 54.5% of the total, the analyst firm's data showed.

Further, we are seeing more competition in the market. Almost 7 million of the premises passed could choose from two or more FTTP networks – that's around a third of the total – and 778,000 had coverage from three or more.

Naturally, that raises questions about consolidation, and we are already starting to see M&A activity in the market. Major altnet CityFibre announced the acquisition of Lit Fibre in March, for example.

CityFibre revealed earlier this week that its FTTP network now covers 3.6 million premises and serves 400,000 customers via retail ISPs, and that it finally reached breakeven in the first quarter of the year. The firm is leading a group of altnets – the number with a footprint of reasonable size is growing (see chart below) – that is responsible for a meaningful portion of market growth.


CityFibre's growth rate is not stellar, given its already large network, but a few players with much smaller footprints have recorded noteworthy growth of late. FW Networks, which has built out FTTP in and around the home counties, posted 90% quarterly growth in premises passed, according to Point Topic, while Cumbria-based Grain Connect's growth came in at 59%; both have under 300,000 homes passed though.

Arguably more noteworthy is the 54% growth rate clocked up by Nexfibre, the joint venture between InfraVia Capital Partners, Liberty Global and Telefónica. The company recently trumpeted hitting the 1 million premises mark – it is shooting for 5 million in the next couple of years – and has the scale and backing to make an impact on the UK market.

Openreach is doing its bit too. The incumbent rolled out FTTP to 946,000 additional premises in Q1, up from 917,000 in the final quarter of 2023, to take its total footprint to 12.9 million. That means it has extended full fibre to more than 40% of UK premises, an increase of almost three percentage points in just three months.

All this fibre growth means that the number of people unable to access high-speed broadband is falling.

As of the end of March, 19% of UK premises did not have access to a gigabit-capable network, including FTTP and DOCSIS 3.1 cable infrastructure. That figure has dropped from 21% in just one quarter, which is great news for those newly-covered by gigabit broadband, many of whom are in Wales, which saw the greatest improvement of all the UK nations.

It would be remiss not to point out that it still means almost a fifth of UK premises can't get gigabit broadband though. There's still much work to be done, for both the incumbents and the altnets.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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